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Authors: Kaylie Newell

The Mariner's Gift

BOOK: The Mariner's Gift
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The Mariner’s Gift

 

by

 

Kaylie Newell

 

 

 

The Mariner’s Gift

Copyright © 2014, Kaylie Newell

ISBN: 9781940744308

Publisher: Beachwalk Press, Inc.

Electronic Publication: July, 2014

Editor: Leigh Lamb

Cover: Fantasia Frog Designs

 

eBooks are not transferable. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

 

Back Cover Copy

 

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones you least expect.

When
LA Times
journalist Zola Mitchell decides to head home to San Francisco in December, it’s to write a piece on the legendary Alcatraz prison. It has nothing to do with her high school crush Oliver Tworek, who’s recently moved back to start up a tour boat business to The Rock. At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.

But when Oliver asks her to dinner, Zola can’t refuse. And when he kisses her under a display of Christmas fireworks from aboard his boat, she can barely remember her own name.

After twenty years, nothing seems to have changed. Oliver’s still popular and gorgeous, and Zola’s still…well, Zola. Behind the successful job, and underneath her shiny, new grown-up exterior, Zola still feels like the skinny girl from junior year English class. Will she ever be able to conquer those insecurities? And more importantly, will she ever get to know the real Oliver—the one who might just have a few secrets of his own?

 

 

Dedication

 

For Matt, my friend and my compass.

 

Acknowledgements

All of my thanks to Beachwalk Press for being a publisher a cut above the rest. Thank you to my family whose support has meant the world. I love you! And all of my appreciation to the reader who has chosen to pick up this book, giving me a few precious hours to tell you a story. I hope you like it.

 

 

Prologue

 

“Oh. My. Gawd. There he is.” Zola elbowed her best friend, Natalie, in the ribs.

“Where?”

“Don’t look.”

“I kind of have to if you want me to see who this guy is.”

Zola’s ears burned. They were probably an interesting shade of purple. In fact, they throbbed as if they had their very own heartbeat.

“Over there. To the right. Tall, blond, letterman’s jacket. He’s with Freddy What’s-his-face.”

“There? By the Coke machine?”

There was a steady stream of kids filing into the gym for the afternoon spirit assembly. It was the last Friday before Christmas vacation and everyone was buzzing on sugar from their class parties. It was freezing outside and the amount of letterman’s jackets on parade was easily in the dozens. But as far as Zola was concerned, there was only one in the entire school.

The gym was crazy loud. The band was playing
Jingle Bells
on the back row of the bleachers, and most of the junior and senior classes were being obnoxious and throwing things at the underclassman in front of them. The principal seemed blissfully unaware, yapping to the driver’s ed teacher who stood on the other side of the microphone, which hadn’t been turned on yet. Everyone seemed excited at the prospect of two weeks off. Except Zola. Christmas break meant not seeing this boy for a whole fourteen days…wait. Twenty days, counting weekends.

Natalie half stood to get a better look, and stepped onto the backpack of the girl in front of her.

“Hey! Watch it!”

“Oh, don’t spaz,” Natalie said. “Keep your pants on.”

Zola tugged on her sleeve. “Don’t look, Nat. Seriously. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t—”

“I know that guy!” Natalie exclaimed. “He’s in my homeroom. Owen? Otis? Isn’t he a foreign exchange student or something? He
is
cute, Zo.”

“Oliver.” Zola’s face followed the example set by her ears and caught fire. She never should have pointed him out in an assembly of all places. The band wasn’t nearly loud enough to drown out the sound of Natalie’s voice when she got excited. Now, a sonic boom? That might do the trick.

“He’s looking up here, you know.”

Against Zola’s better judgment, she glanced over. Her glasses were slipping off her nose—of course—and she pushed them back up in a move so practiced it had become almost like breathing.

He
was
looking up. And he was beautiful and gorgeous and…smiling. He was smiling. At her?

“Well, don’t just sit there, dummy. Wave!” Natalie’s normally sweet voice rang with a note of exasperation.

Zola did as she was told and raised her hand which was shaking a little. Before she could even wiggle her fingers, Shannon Mahoney, looking exactly like an oversexed Tinkerbell in her cheerleading uniform, shimmied up behind him and slapped her hands over his eyes.

“Guess who?” she squealed.

Even three rows up, Zola could hear Shannon perfectly. She sounded like a dolphin stuck in a tuna net.

“Oh God,” Natalie mumbled, then looked over and shrugged. It was a gesture that carried with it the sympathy only another seventeen-year-old girl could muster. “Shoulda waved sooner.”

 

Chapter 1

 

Zola Mitchell stared straight ahead while the chilly ocean wind wreaked havoc on her short, brown hair. She ran a self-conscious hand through it, well aware that she was being watched from behind. She’d worn her best slacks and cutest waist-length jacket with a red, silk scarf tied around her neck. Very Christmassy. But totally inappropriate for a research trip to Alcatraz in early December. She was freezing her buns off.

“Ready?” The male voice behind her was almost drowned out by the sudden roar of the boat’s engines.

Zola grabbed the rusted railing as her footing suddenly shifted with the deck. She’d forgotten to take a Dramamine with breakfast and her stomach rolled.
Great.
The first time she’d seen Oliver in years, and she was going to be barfing overboard the whole time while her scarf flapped merrily in the breeze behind her.

“All ready!” Zola hoped she sounded chipper and professional. Of course, the sound of her voice would be in direct contrast to the tint of her face, which was probably green.

He was still standing there. She could feel him.

Tugging the scarf away from her throat, she turned. Oliver Tworek had always been the cutest boy in high school. A veritable teen girl magnet. His parents had emigrated from Poland when he was eleven, so his accent hadn’t hurt either. The years had been kind to Oliver. He’d filled out. But he’d also grown into his looks in a way that made her even more self-conscious than before. His gray eyes and close-cropped, blond hair were the same though. His features were sharp and distinctive. His nose was just a little big, a slight imperfection that had only increased his appeal for teenie bopper Zola. And turns out, thirty-eight-year-old Zola as well. He wore a navy blue, fleece jacket, which was open at the throat. The logo on the chest read
Alcatraz Boat Tours
, and below that,
Captain O. Tworek
.

She smiled. “You look very official.”

“It’s no Coast Guard uniform, but it’ll do.” He was smiling back. With dimples.

She wanted to throw up.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, reaching for her arm. “But you don’t look so good.”

Why had she forgotten that dratted Dramamine? Oh, yes. Hottie boat captain. If that wasn’t grounds for distraction, she didn’t know what was.

“I’ll be okay,” she managed.

The boat rocked again and she leaned into his hand which was anchoring her in place. Brushing her flattened bangs from her eyes, she looked around the deck where dozens of other people—families, couples, friends—looked eager for departure. Wreaths hung amidst tiny, white Christmas lights that draped the entire outline of the boat. Normally, she would have thought it was lovely. Now, not so much.

“Aren’t you supposed to be driving or something?” she asked.

“Here.” He motioned for her to sit on one of the benches. “Look at the horizon. It’ll help.”

She plopped down, grateful for something solid beneath her, and clutched her big, leather purse to her chest. This wasn’t exactly how she’d pictured this outing. Last night as she’d been drifting off to sleep, she’d imagined Oliver coming up behind her, a soft ocean breeze ruffling her perfectly coifed hair. He’d have said something like
Zo, you look beautiful
, in his slight, but exotic accent. And she would have responded with
Oh, no
. And then she would have laughed charmingly before flashing a demure, but totally dazzling smile.

This sea sickness routine was screwing up her reunion mojo.

Oliver sat down next to her, and even with the stiff wind howling over the deck, she caught his scent.
Yum.

“Howard’s got the wheel. I’ll sit with you for a while if that’s okay?”

The engine roared again, vibrating the entire boat. It lurched away from the dock, sending Zola into a fresh round of pukiness. She smiled her best smile, although she was pretty sure it wasn’t demure
or
dazzling.

“Thanks, Oliver.” She focused on his eyes. Screw the horizon. “It’s been a long time. How’s the tour business going?”

“It’s good. Still getting used to dealing with the public, but that’ll come in time, I guess.”

From what she’d deciphered over the phone, he’d been retired from the Coast Guard for a year. He’d been living in Newport, Oregon, all this time. When his marriage ended, he’d decided to come back to San Francisco and go in on an Alcatraz tour business with some seafaring buddies with deep pockets.

She hadn’t seen him since their ten year high school reunion, when he’d been a young, up-and-coming boatswain’s mate and his wife had been pregnant. They’d seemed like the perfect couple. They had the perfect life.

So it was really with no other intention that Zola had contacted him on Facebook about giving her a tour for the article she was working on. She thought he was married. Most likely still drop-dead gorgeous, but married. When he’d told her otherwise, that’s when she’d broken out the adorable, but totally non-functional scarf and jacket.

Zola shivered. She’d reverted back to high school in the last forty-eight hours. She’d actually woken up this morning surprised not to find any pimples. How could he still manage to affect her this way after all these years?

The boat shifted again as it moved farther into the bay. Seagulls dipped on the wind and squawked to each other like hyperactive kids. The air smelled salty and just a little bit like fish. Despite Zola’s rolling tummy, she embraced it. It smelled familiar. Like home.

Oliver leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He cocked his head to the side and studied her in that way he had. Like she was the only female on the planet. No wonder so many girls had been in love with him back then.

“I’m glad you found me, Zola. It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too.”

“You’ve changed.”

Had she? She still felt like the same insecure bookworm she’d always been. Just without the glasses.

He nodded, not waiting for a response. “You look different.”

“It’s the hair,” she said, moving it away from her forehead for the one hundredth time that hour. “It’s shorter.”

“It’s not the hair.”

She smiled, feeling her cheeks heat even with the chilly breeze blowing against them. “Oh?”
Was that a compliment?

He nodded slowly.

The boat’s engines roared as they pushed into the choppy water. The other tour boats on the wharf were much bigger. This one was small in comparison and was one of only two in the fleet. Still, Zola marveled at Oliver’s success. He’d really done something with his life. She wondered if he might feel the same about her. She was proud of her job as a staff writer for the
Los Angeles Times
. Very proud. But sometimes she felt like something was missing.

Spray pelted her in the face.
There goes the makeup!

“So.” Oliver put on a pair of dark aviator sunglasses as the sun peeked briefly from the steely clouds to reflect on the water. “A writer, huh? That part’s not much different.”

“It’s all I ever wanted to do.” She’d been Oliver’s English tutor senior year, and her writing aspirations had never been a secret. Even though they’d been polar opposites at seventeen, they’d become friends. She’d lusted after him privately, and he’d treated her like the little sister he never had.

“Pretty impressive, Zola. The
LA Times
?”

“I don’t like to brag.”

“A stuck-up journalist,” he said dryly. “And now I’ve got the job of hauling your butt across the bay and back.”

BOOK: The Mariner's Gift
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